Saturday, October 14, 2017
Book Review: 'The Lewis Man' by Peter May
In Peter May's "The Lewis Man," the mummified, well-preserved body of a man is found in a peat bog on the Isle of Lewis in Scotland's Outer Hebrides. The victim had been bound and stabbed, and his throat had been cut. As luck would have it, Fin Macleod, recently divorced and having resigned his job as detective inspector on Edinburgh's police force, has decided to return to his roots. He arrives on the Isle of Lewis that he left behind years ago, pitches a tent, and starts to rebuild his parents' derelict croft. He also becomes reacquainted with his former love, Marsaili Macdonald, whose son, Fionnlagh, a boy in his late teens, is already a single dad.
Fin Macleod is an emotional basket case who has many unresolved issues to work through before he can move on with his life. Meanwhile, he is drawn to the case of the peat bog corpse, partly to help his old acquaintance, Detective Sergeant George Gunn. Adding to the story's power and poignancy is the fact that Marsali's father, Tormod Macdonald, is lost in a fog of dementia. Yet, locked in his mind are vivid memories of his youth, and he shares his thoughts with the reader in a series of compelling flashbacks. We know what Tormod's relatives do not--that his addled mind holds the key to the mystery that Fin is trying to unravel. Sadly, Tormod can no longer communicate coherently, although occasionally he reveals tidbits of valuable information.
May creates a picturesque and forbidding landscape of windswept cliffs, churning tides, pelting rain, and rugged terrain that only the hardiest souls dare call home. The author inserts Gaelic words into the narrative that lend the story local color and authenticity. We can almost smell the peat that is still harvested for heating and cooking. The well-drawn characters are vividly portrayed; each struggles with internal and family conflicts. Some suffer at the hands of others who abuse, betray, and abandon them. Although the plot is as dour and depressing as a dark and blustery winter day on the Scottish Isles, this colorful and riveting novel seamlessly combines history, forensics, romance, and a fascinating whodunit. In addition, the dialogue is understated and powerful. Fortunately, amid all the gloom, Peter May offers a few glimmers of hope that perhaps, in time, Fin and his fellow islanders will find a measure of peace.
Editor's note: This review was written by Eleanor Bukowsky and has been reposted with permission. Like what you read? Subscribe to the SFRB's free daily email notice so you can be up-to-date on our latest articles. Scroll up this page to the sign-up field on your right